Conversational AI in the driving lane isn’t new — NRN has been covering this trending tech phenomenon since 2019, when companies began adapting AI voice assistants in earnest — but the trend is now reaching fever pitch, and more and more limited service chains are pushing people They will be replaced by AI-driven workers. This is just the beginning: As AI becomes ubiquitous in the restaurant industry, there will be a major shift in the service model and customer experience.
This month, Wendy’s and CKE restaurants announced plans to implement AI test pilots at drive-thru, joining a list that includes White Castle, Del Taco, Panera, McDonald’s and Sonic.
TechTracker covers what’s happening in the technology sector of the restaurant industry, including news from restaurants, suppliers, digital platforms and third-party delivery companies. Here’s a list of what you need to know and why:
Wendy’s and CKE restaurants have joined the AI drive-thru club.
This month, both Wendy’s and Carl’s Jr.’s parent company CKE Restaurants announced investments in drive-thru AI technology, first in a pilot trial. As previously reported on NRN , Wendy’s is partnering with Google Cloud to improve the driving experience by using artificial intelligence, generative AI and large-scale linguistic models in drive-thru restaurants in June.
The technology allows AI to not only accept orders in the drive-thru lane (the preferred service method for Wendy’s customers), but also to understand ordering requests and respond to specific questions on the spot. Generative AI technology is the ultimate in drive-thru technology, creating a less frustrating customer ordering experience in which AI can better understand conversations, natural conversational terms and frequently asked questions.
Like most restaurants, Wendy’s is piloting this technology to create a more frictionless ordering experience, ease staff workloads, and easily integrate with restaurant hardware and POS systems.
Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s parent company CKE Restaurants announced the expansion of the Drive-thru AI pilot program in partnership with Presto Automation, Open City and Valiant AI.
Presto Voice has been added to a number of CKE restaurants nationwide, and is now expanding that investment after a successful pilot program and offering it to the company’s franchisee base around the country.
Phil Crawford, chief technology officer at CKE Restaurants, said in a statement: “The pilot program has yielded positive results, with the ability to win at organized stores showing significant revenue growth.”
Many companies cite automated merchandising as a distinct advantage in Drive-Tur Lane, where AI can suggest items to customers on the spot based on what’s in the shopping cart, and additional items based on geographic popularity and time of day.
Although it seems like a new quick-service chain is announcing an AI investment every day, it could be years before every drive-thru line replaces the friendly human voice with an automated experience. But even the driving-by-AI test drive level is changing the way we think about customer experience: it’s everywhere, it’s convenient, and it’s faster and easier than ever before.
Resy founder started NFT Loyalty Club for restaurants
CEO and co-founder/former CEO of Recy, Ben Leventhal, left his role at the top dining reservation company in December 2020 to create restaurant technology company Blackbird Labs. Blackbird’s latest project is $Fly: an NFT loyalty program designed with restaurants in mind. According to the company’s newsletter, $Fly is “a groundbreaking symbol of the future of the restaurant economy.” Blackbird aims to create a network of restaurants that share and benefit from an umbrella digital loyalty program.
The blockchain-based loyalty program is currently in beta mode at five New York City restaurants, though the number will increase to 50 when Blackbird officially launches in June. Each restaurant under the Blackbird umbrella will have its own personal rewards program.
The Blackbird Card is a digital card available at any and all of these participating restaurants. Guests “check in” by scanning the NFC chip on the front of each participating restaurant (the same technology you use when you “tap” your phone to check out in a retail store), and guests unlock a new one with each visit thereafter. Rewards, from free food and discounts to VIP events and rare restaurant reservations.
Does it sound familiar? Tech Tracker has covered the rise of NFT-based loyalty programs from Starbucks to WowBao, but this is the first time a company has allowed customers to hold their rewards for multiple restaurants in one digital place.
Uber Eats has partnered with Amazon to launch delivery tracking.
Uber Eats announced a partnership with Amazon Echo earlier this month. Customers can set how often they want to receive notifications at specific points in the delivery completion process, such as when an order from a restaurant is received by a dispatcher on the way.
This feature is now available on all Alexa-enabled devices, and customers can get started by turning on the “Track with Alexa” button in the Uber Eats app.
“Simple location experiences allow customers to be more connected to family and friends — they don’t need to be distracted by checking delivery updates on their mobile app,” said Mark Yoshitak, general manager and director of Alexa Skills, in a statement. “Now customers can tune in to their favorite movie and trust Alexa to let their driver know when the order arrives or update if there’s a material change in the estimated delivery time.”
It’s Amazon’s latest move to integrate the company into the restaurant industry. In March, Panera announced a partnership with Amazon One for contactless palm payment technology, and customers will be able to order Panera with their Alexa-enabled devices.
Deliverect acquires ChatFood
Global software and online ordering integration company Deliverect announced earlier this month that it has acquired ChatFood’s omnichannel ordering and marketing platform. Together, both companies will expand the digital ordering platform’s reach to 43,000 restaurants in 42 markets worldwide.
“We are thrilled to welcome ChatFood to the Deliverect team,” said Deliverect CEO and Founder Zhong Xu in a statement. “At ChatFood, we now offer a 360-degree solution inspired by the challenges our customers face, supporting both in-restaurant dining and online food delivery. This milestone is a milestone for our company, as we strive every day to simplify the lives of restaurant owners and help them thrive in the digital age.”
Deliver customers can now add new solutions like social media ordering and digital ordering and payment capabilities with custom QR codes.
In other news….
- Toast adds another feature in addition to Toast Tables—a reservation and waitlist management solution comparable to OpenTable. Key features include real-time table availability updates and personalized guest profiles.
- Tabbitt Announces OpenTable Partnership: A Closed-Loop Integration That Brings Homework Front-End Key features include personalized guest ID (is this a new customer or a regular?) and real-time guest information (which course is #3?) so hosts can provide more accurate wait times.
- Tattle Integrates with Square—Tattle’s automated post-meal survey emails or text messages to customers are now integrated with Square’s POS system.
- Yelp will get new features for restaurants to add POS insights and data integration to Yelp’s suite of capabilities, and integration with Toast to make guest reservations through Google Reservations, Google Search or Google Maps easier than ever.
Contact Joanna at [email protected]